UFC Bound: The Real Winners and Losers from Strikeforce's Final MMA Event
This week has been like a giant wake for our beloved Strikeforce. Once the little MMA promotion that could, it's been terminally ill for some time now. That doesn't make it any less hard to say goodbye.
At its best, Strikeforce was amazing. From Frank Shamrock's incredible win over Cesar Gracie to launch the promotion's MMA shows to the unthinkable submission losses by Fedor Emelianenko, Strikeforce left fans with plenty of tremendous memories.
Its final show didn't have any moments like that. Most of the guys were either carefully protecting themselves for their UFC future or auditioning for a run in the big show. No one was prepared to do anything reckless or wild, a Strikeforce staple.
It was still a perfectly acceptable night of fighting. Some fighters won, some lost. But the real winners and losers aren't always properly judged by looking at the results. A fighter can sometimes lose, in the hearts of the fans or the mind of his promoter, by winning a boring fight. And a loser, if he fights with passion, can win plenty without getting his hand raised in the end.
So who were the real winners and losers of Strikeforce's final show? Let's have a look. Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
Winner: Tarec Saffiedine
When two solid professional fighters meet in the middle, the result isn't always scintillating. Fighters can be too good sometimes, countering each other and shutting down their opponent's offense. It's not that they aren't trying. It's just that every fight can't be fight of the night, and the more accomplished the competition, the more likely a stalemate can occur.
Intellectually, I can accept this. Everyone has off nights. But there is still a small part of me that wants to boo until I lose my voice. I don't love myself in these moments, but I don't love the fighters in the cage, either.
Nate Marquardt and Tarec Saffiedine made me feel that way in the last bout ever in the Strikeforce cage, at least for the first three rounds. There wasn't anything wrong with the fight. But there wasn't anything right about it, either.
And then the fourth round happened. Suddenly, everyone in the building realized that Marquardt's poor leg looked like some kind of science experiment, like a slab of meat that had been left in a locked closet to rot for three weeks. Saffiedine, who seemed like he was going to win a dull decision just a few minutes before, was actually a secret genius.
The man that started as a newcomer in the Strikeforce Challengers organization worked his way up to this title bout and leaves the promotion as champion. There's something special about that.
Loser: Nate Marquardt's Leg
Nate Marquardt's leg looked like it once belonged to a cadaver. One that had been dumped in a bog somewhere, and dragged out, bloated, swollen and gross.
Tarec Saffiedine kicked him over and over again. And then he kicked him again. Marquardt, until it was nearly too late, didn't block or evade a single one of these kicks.
Each sounded like a gunshot. It was brutal, bad enough that Frank Shamrock compared it to the time his brother, Ken, had to have holes drilled in his leg to drain the blood. Think about that.
Sunday, Marquardt will wake up and immediately wish he hadn't. Then he'll limp to the airport and try to drag his injured leg down the aisle and suffer through a flight home. For a week, he won't want to leave the house.
Eventually, he will find his way back into the cage. When he does? I hope he picks up his leg to block a few kicks.
Winner and Loser: Daniel Cormier
This one may be controversial. After all, Daniel Cormier spent two rounds abusing Dion Staring like he was little more than a tackling dummy.
But there was a nagging voice in the back of my head during this fight. Mostly, it was asking me for Doritos. Occasionally, though, it said things related to fighting.
"This shouldn't be so hard for Daniel."
"Why is this taking so long?"
"Why isn't he able to finish this thing?"
"Has he always been this small?"
In truth, just getting through this fight and on to the UFC makes Daniel Cormier a winner. He'll fight Frank Mir in April on FOX and is already making waves about a bout with Jon Jones. He didn't get upset or suffer an injury. That makes him a winner, even if Staring made him work for it.
Winner: Josh Barnett
We all knew Josh Barnett was going to beat Nandor Guelmino. Barnett is still a top-class heavyweight, and Nandor is a guy without a Wikipedia entry. That's a bad sign.
So just winning wasn't going to be enough to get Barnett into the winner's column here. Oh no. We needed something special—and got it, not during the fight, but afterward in a classic post-fight interview with Pat Miletich.
No one knows if Barnett will make it to the UFC, where he was once champion of the world. I'm sure he'd love that. But if not, he served warning to heavyweights the world over—you can't hide from the Warmaster.
Gegard Mousasi, funny enough, was once considered one of the very best prospects in all of MMA. Yet somehow, while only losing once since 2006, it just doesn't feel that way anymore. Despite being just 27, it felt like Gegard's days were done.
It doesn't feel that way anymore.
Mousasi didn't just beat Mike Kyle. He embarrassed him, all while never once changing facial expressions. Suddenly, like deja vu, Mousasi's future looks bright. I can't wait to see it.
Loser: Ed Herman's Arm
Boy, is Ed Herman's arm ever mad at his brain right now. First, Herman decided to illegally kick "Jacare" Souza, angering a man who is terrifying even in his happiest moments. Then, he made the decision not to tap immediately when Souza trapped him in a brutal Kimura. I'm not sure if Herman is injured, but it didn't look pleasant.
To his credit, Herman was the one UFC fighter willing to step into the Strikeforce cage with Jacare. We saw why the others demurred. Jacare is an absolute beast when the fight hits the ground and slugs like a mountain goat when it's standing. Assuming goats live in the mountains. Or that they aren't technical strikers.
Whatever. He hits hard and can grapple with anyone in the division. When you make a list of Strikeforce guys who are going to do well in the UFC, he needs to be near the top.
Loser: The Fans
Whether you love Mauro Ranallo or can't stand his bombastic pro-wrestling style, there's no doubt he's the voice most associated with Strikeforce on Showtime. It's a shame that he couldn't make the final event, but a man has to put his family first.
So while it was understandable that Ranallo wasn't there to say goodbye to the promotion he saw through so many memorable moments, the choice to replace him with Ron Kruk was not. I would have preferred "The Fight Professor" Stephen Quadros in that role.
Quadros earned the right on Strikeforce's Challengers card and would have provided a familiar voice to Strikeforce fans. While the announcing was far from terrible, it just didn't feel like Strikeforce. And that's unfortunate.
Winners: Ryan Couture and K.J. Noons
Let's get this out of the way—I thought the judges got it wrong when they awarded Ryan Couture a split-decision victory. K.J. Noons, according to Compubox, outstruck Couture in every round. He dropped him twice. I'm shocked his hand wasn't raised.
That said, Couture showed me a lot. He's improved dramatically since his earliest bouts. No longer in there because of his last name, he's a legitimate fighter and proved it Saturday night in a really fun fight.
Winner: Tim Kennedy
The UFC brass may or may not have been sending Tim Kennedy a message by putting the Army Ranger's final Strikeforce bout on the undercard. He certainly sent them, and the UFC's middleweight class, a message in return, submitting Trevor Smith in the third round.
Kennedy has always believed he is a top-10 fighter. He left Army active duty to prove it. In the UFC, he'll get that chance.
Loser: Jorge Gurgel
Even on his best day, Jorge Gurgel was never anywhere near "great." In his prime, he was a living punching bag, albeit a punching bag with tremendous jiu-jitsu and terrible wrestling. That made him a fighter who spent a lot of time standing and trading leather, often to his own detriment.
Wild-swinging and exciting, he was Leonard Garcia if Garcia's best friend was Rich Franklin and not Donald Cerrone. In short, he was a guy you could count on to lose an exciting fight.
At 35, he's lost his last two, including Saturday night's decision loss to Adriano Martins. He's lost four of his last five and six of his last eight. There comes a time when every fighter has to make the tough decision to hang it up. For Gurgel, that was probably in 2010. Today, he's only doing unnecessary damage to his body and mind.
I've always loved watching Jorge Gurgel fight. And that's exactly why I don't want to see it ever again.
Tarec Saffiedine defeats Nate Marquardt via unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)
Daniel Cormier defeats Dion Staring via TKO at 4:02 of Round 2
Josh Barnett defeats Nandor Guelmino via submission at 2:11 of Round 1
Gegard Mousasi defeats Mike Kyle via submission at 4:09 of Round 1
Ronaldo Souza defeats Ed Herman via submission at 3:10 of Round 1
Ryan Couture defeats K.J. Noons via split decision (29-28, 27-30, 29-28)
Tim Kennedy defeats Trevor Smith via submission at 1:36 of Round 3
Pat Healy defeats Kurt Holobaugh via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Roger Gracie defeats Anthony Smith via submission at 3:16 of Round 2
Adriano Martins defeats Jorge Gurgel via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27)
Estevan Payan defeats Michael Bravo via TKO at 4:01 of Round 2